The New Year’s Holiday Letter

No apocalypse, huh? Guess that means I actually DO have to consider New Year’s Resolutions sometime soon. (Not to mention actually getting those Christmas cards in the mail…)

I don’t really do resolutions any more. Honestly, I still go through stacks of stuff every once in a while and find some old notebook or scrap of paper or blank book with one page used, and on it is scrawled the New Year’s Resolution List from some unknown year. And yeah, they’re usually the same. Lose weight. Start exercising. Find time to write. A sad testament to my inability to accept the facts that 1) since I didn’t do it the previous year, I’m probably not going to do it this year, and 2) I can’t keep track of lists, so they don’t actually help anything.

A few years ago, a friend told me about the New Year’s Holiday Letter to Yourself, and I have to admit I love the concept—and it’s a WHOLE lot more effective than those resolutions. It’s kind of a combination of a story-form of resolutions and the whole “visualization” theory. Don’t worry—it’s easier than it sounds.

Pretend you’re doing a holiday letter talking about all the fabulous things that happened during the year—just pretend it is next December. The one caveat—the letter needs to be hand written. Not done on the computer, phone, tablet, or whatever. Break out the pen. Put everything in terms of success, not plans. Stay positive. Be enthusiastic. And specific. Whether it’s going somewhere exotic on vacation, or losing that weight, put it on the page.

Wow—2013 was an amazing year. As a special treat for getting that second manuscript to my agent, we decided to use some of our extra savings we built up courtesy of the new job to take the kids to EuroDisney! It was a fabulous trip that gave me some great ideas for the next book of the series. Everything went so smoothly, but I have to admit the best part was having to buy a new wardrobe before I left since my new dance classes have just been melting the weight off me.

Okay, that’s probably a bit condensed, but you get the idea… It’s not, “I wrote every day from 4:30 to 6:30, no matter what.” Or “I worked out for 45 minutes three times a week without ever missing a scheduled workout.” It’s the results you tout. The second finished manuscript. The extra money you’re comfortable spending. The weight being so easy to lose.

Then, put the letter in an envelope for yourself to open New Year’s Eve of next year.

The mind is an interesting and odd thing…and a very powerful one. It’s along the lines of the power of positive—or negative—thinking, mixed up with the “universal abundance” theory. If you tell yourself something, your brain, and the Universe, will work to make sure it is true. Especially if you’ve written it out long-hand. (It has something to do with the brain/hand connection.)

No, I’m not saying if you write, “Wow, I jumped out of bed and tripped over stacks of gold coins and large-denomination bills!” that will be what happens at 8 a.m. January 1st. But, I will say that things start happening. And for some reason, I don’t lose these letters. In fact, I don’t even forget what I wrote in the letters. Give it a try, and, next December 31st, let me know what happened.

Books, Family, and Reading

The Reading Mother

I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea.
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth;
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.

I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.

I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness lent with his final breath.

I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-
Stories that stir with an upward touch.
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be –
I had a Mother who read to me.

Strickland Gillilan (1869–1954)

Strickland Gillilan was an American poet and humorist. I had never heard of him, though they say he’s famous and his work (now public domain mostly) is on greeting cards, especially this poem, popular on Mother’s Day.

I found this poem astonishingly moving, and it makes me think of my grandmothers–both of whom had December birthdays–but especially my grandmother on my mother’s side. She read to me and my sister whenever we were at her house. Winnie the Pooh. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Robin Hood. Mary Poppins. Poetry—this Gillilan poem reminded me instantly of Ogden Nash’s Tale of Custard the Dragon, one of our family favorites. When we were old enough to read on our own, the question was always, “So, what are you reading now?” I was an adult before I realized that the implication was “of course you are reading something at all times”.

My grandma and mom were always exchanging paperbacks—Nora Lofts, Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart. (Yeah, notice a trend there? I come by the genre naturally!) I was excited when I got to be old enough to read “their” books, too. My grandmother on Dad’s side was always doing crossword puzzles, acrostics, word jumbles, or some other sort of word puzzle.

Not to be sexist in the discussion by any means—my grandfather (my dad’s dad) always had a history book by his chair. Civil war, usually. Dad preferred mysteries and the men’s adventure tales—John McDonald, Ian Fleming, and so forth—as well as the legal thrillers and history books.

I remember taking a survey in elementary school and one of the questions was “How many books are in your house?” My first reaction was “Oh, #($*@—I’m expected to count them all??” Then I realized the multiple choice answers only went to “more than 100”, which I knew as ludicrously low. It was years before I realized that meant they people to use the other four answers, too. As I got older, I met folks who threw paperback books away when they were done reading them. Turns out this isn’t actually a crime. Who knew?

And when I had kids of my own, I was always perplexed by the people who so earnestly suggested that I read aloud to them—what was next? Earnestly “suggesting” I feed them? From Chicka Chicka ABC to Percy Jackson, yeah, I read to my kids. No, they’re not toddlers any more, and yes, we still read together.

It never occurred to me growing up that any of this was odd. That reading wasn’t an important part of daily life of every family member in every family. That keeping and treasuring (okay, hording…) books was in any way unusual. That having a book—or two, if you’re nearly done with the first—in your purse wasn’t usual. (And this was seriously pre-e-reader!) To me, it’s just the way life is supposed to be.

And will be for my children, if I have any say in the matter.